Thursday, September 1, 2005
A top law school, with perhaps more than its share of students misbehaving on various web sites, recently welcomed its students back with the following prudent words of advice:
First, welcome to a new school year. We hope it is a healthy, happy and productive time for you, bringing you much satisfaction both personally and professionally. With that in mind, we want to raise what we feel is a very important issue.
The use, misuse, and permanence of discussion boards, blogs, group websites and other web postings has been much in the news lately, and we want to bring some concerns to your attention.
Most importantly, we've learned that posts made on the web may well be permanent and may have serious consequences. Things said on discussion boards and blogs can travel around the world instantly, and become something that can define the writer now or at any future point. Statements made now, in jest or between what the writer assumes to be a small group of friends, may come back to haunt one in the future. Early this summer we became aware of an incident in which comments made by a student on a blog were read by his employer when the employer googled her own name and discovered what the student had said about her. Result: instant termination of employment.
We are also aware of cases in which potential employers have seen some very intemperate postings and have questioned the desirability of hiring the individual. And similarly, we know of a young attorney who was fired one day after accidentally sending firm- wide, rather than deleting as she'd intended, an inflammatory and personally abusive email directed at a member of her firm's support staff.
The same caution holds true for the owners of websites, where the language used by others may well reflect negatively on the site's owners, no matter how well-intentioned the site may be.
At the moment, the upcoming Senate confirmation hearings of Judge Roberts has made us all aware of the importance of statements, many written decades ago. These writings, the thoughtful and long- considered work-product of an attorney, are mild compared to some of the postings which people put on their blogs or in other postings these days. It is a certainty that some contemporary postings, done for friends or for unknown readers out in cyberspace and in tones that are presented as jests or as sarcastic provocations, will look far different when viewed in the light of an employment review or a Senate confirmation hearing. What is said now as a joke or a flame under cover of supposed anonymity, may well come back to haunt the writer in later years.
The web continues to provide new opportunities, new uses, new challenges, AND new ways to make major life-altering errors. We are writing to you now as a gentle and collegial reminder to give some thought to what you write and send out into the world at large.
Freedom of speech is an overarching value to all of us. But the occasional use of self-restraint is no assault on that freedom. PLEASE KEEP THIS IN MIND: you are at the start of your professional career.
We urge you to take the long view and the adult view of what you write. THINK about the words you send out into the world, and imagine what they would you look like when you - and surely some of you will - find yourself under review at a confirmation hearing for a professional position you dearly desire.